Defense Training Volunteers

Forest of Dean

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Training Tips

5 Ways To Prepare Yourself For The Weekend’s Activity

Preparation is key in the Art of War.

sun-tzuThis upcoming weekend we’ll be filling the Forest of Dean to the rafters with cunning rogues, light-footed cutthroats and dastardly mercenaries. They’ll all be patrolling, camping and idling around in amongst the trees and rivers, unaware that they’re about to be set upon by two teams of well-trained assassins. 

Although I’ve tried my best to prepare both teams of assassins and the various target volunteers for the weekend ahead, I thought I’d collect a few more thoughts just to help everyone make the most of the time we have.

Here are 5 ways any of you can prepare yourselves for the upcoming battle, with a little help from Sun Tzu:


‘Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.’


It’s imperative that you keep your basic skills up to scratch. The rules remain the same whether you are an assassin or a target. At some point you will be forced into a 1-on-1 or possibly 2-on-1 fight scenario, so you’ll need to be ready to deflect, parry and attack as quickly as possible. There’s no point in spending the best part of 6 hours tracking your quarry, only to be bested by them in the battle proper. This leads us onto my next tip…


“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”


The missions that I’ve set the teams aren’t simply assassination based. Each set of targets, as well as some roving bandits, will be carrying their own supply of resources as well as some intelligence on where and when the other target groups will be. These supply crates will be clearly labelled and boxed up in timber packing cases, kindly lent to us by a friend of Kevan’s. You’ll need to plan your attack and stalk your prey thoroughly before diving into the thick of it though…

Get Inspired

‘You have to believe in yourself.’


You’ll find that you’ll become a great deal more immersed in the weekend if you’ve mentally primed yourself first. This can either be achieved by reading a favourite swords-and-sorcery book or simply by kicking back with a classic movie. My personal recommendations would be either Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of The Ring for some quintessential forest based battles or (if you’re looking for something a little cheesier) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Tool Up

‘Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.’


A big weekend away is always a good opportunity to treat yourself to some more gear. You wouldn’t want to be caught short in a fight, and not have enough throwing knives to take down that last bandit. Assassins also might want to invest in a cloak, to adapt to the changing colours of the forest, targets will be given outer garb to wear, but are encouraged to style and kit themselves out as much as they deem suitable.

Bring Food

‘When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil. When full, starve them. When settled, make them move.’


Although we’ll be supplying all our volunteer targets with plenty of ale, meats and soups – the assassins won’t have the same luxury. Our two teams will be laying low and lighting fires at their own risk. As part of the experience we’ll be getting assassins to cook and prepare all their meals in the forest, but you can still bring seasonal fruits, breads and cheeses – anything period – no cereal bars (I’m looking at you Barbara!).

We’ve got a big weekend ahead of us, so my very last tip would be to get a good night’s sleep tonight and tomorrow. Rest up in your beds well, because the Forest floor is not always the most comfortable of mattresses!

Rachel Leissbecker is an expert Stealth Trainer and Knife Thrower. Her weekly classes teach the uninitiated how to successfully track, stalk and eliminate groups of targets – utilising ancient covert tactics passed down from her Priesthood ancestors. She is a huge fan of the LOTR films and has just the smallest of crushes on a certain Kevin Costner…

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Night-time Cloak & Dagger Training continues…

The summer nights are finally here and, now it looks like we’re in for some better weather, its time to get back to some Night-time Cloak and Dagger training! We have around 6 weeks left of lovely dusky evenings and, regular attendees will know that, this is the best time of year to practice the stealth tactics that we’ve been training so hard on over the spring break.ToaA-Priest

For those who are new to the Volunteers, welcome! Cloak & Dagger training is a wonderful historical martial art that can be practiced by people of most abilities. Mostly used by Shadow Monks and Rogue Priests, under the employ of the church, these sleeper agents secretly trained in the arts of stealth and subterfuge whilst going about their clerical duties. When the message came from the Cardinals or Bishops in Rome, they would be sent to undermine political connections and cause dissent.

forest ambushAs the decades and centuries passed, these agents were slowly either retired or killed in the line of duty and the church found more discrete methods of infiltrating governments and monarchies. However, the art of stealth and dagger-work has been kept alive and well, passed down from generation to generation. Today, we practice Cloak & Dagger techniques almost as a form of meditation. Much like Yoga or Tai Chi, the movements and skill involved require patience and flexibility to master. A beginner in Cloak & Dagger might well find their movements sluggish or clumsy but, even after a year of practice, enormous progress can be made in the fields of guile and cunning.

We’ll be meeting in the same place as usual, and I’d like to ask all participants to leave their cars parked a little way down the road. The dress-code remains the same as last year: dark green or brown cotton or hemp, with leather shoes of your own choice. If you’ve got blonde or otherwise light coloured hair, it might be a good idea to bring a headwrap or hood to stay hidden in the shadows. As usual, I will be supplying all fighting equipment – for safety precautions I’d like to ask participants to not bring their own.

larperThe usual 3 hour schedule will be used this year. A half hour of training and warm-ups, followed by an hour of new skill acquisition and then two full scenario sessions to put those new skills to use! I’ve spent the break compiling a whole range of new situations and there’ll be plenty of opportunity for role-playing, if anyone has the urge! Get your email suggestions and course bookings in early because, as always, places will go fast!

Rachel Leissbecker is a Cloak & Dagger Coach and descendant of Rogue Priest Jacobi Leissbecker. She trains and coaches the art of subterfuge and stealth for educational and recreational purposes only. Due to the nature of the fighting style we ask that participants be at least 18 years of age and due respect be given to all present.

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Quarterstaff Lessons In The Forest

quarter staffThe average quarterstaff training session is something I consider to be a transformative experience. The students in my classes may live their own lives at a break-neck pace, interacting with modern technology that, not so long ago, would have belonged in Science-Fiction; however, for a couple of hours a week they can leave those lives behind. For two hours a week they can forget about sales projections, dissertations
or social media.

When the weighty silence of the forest is all around you, and just the sound of clashing staffs can be heard (along with the trainer’s calls) the members of the class are no longer Digital Marketing Executives or Quantity Surveyors. When the clatter of a blocked side blow sends a man’s feet sliding through the undergrowth; the last thing on his mind is his Facebook Newsfeed.

spear staffI meet my students in a car park or lay by. Part of the joy in training in the Forest of Dean is that there are dozens of wonderfully peaceful clearings where we are guaranteed privacy and peace to practice our art. Although, logistically, it would be easier for us to meet in the same place each
week; there’s a certain mystery and fun in training somewhere different.

It harks back to the days of guerilla gatherings of medieval serfs. Terrorised by local landowners and their goons, they were forced to train in hiding – equipping themselves with the skills that they would need to defend themselves from future raids.

Once we have all greeted each other, we change out of our modern civilian clothes and into the training garb of the traditional English peasant. Simple cotton, yarn or even hemp sacking is re-purposed into basic tunics or robes – this allows freedom of movement and brings us closer to the ancestors that began this tradition. It can be amazing what a quick change of costume and scenery can do to a person’s demeanour. A pushy, sales executive (yes, Gavin, I’m talking about you!) can be transformed into a contemplative forest nomad or a shy, stay-at-home-mum can turn into a daring woodland warrior.

forest beautyWith a strict no phones policy, a two-hour workshop can almost feel like a time-warp. When the noise of the modern world is muted by the dense wall of the surrounding forest, the only thing you can think about is the man or woman who’s trying to knock you down with a quarterstaff. Focus and concentration are two of the main tenets of our society – one that is based on decency and honour. By the end of a typical training session, our participants should feel tired, exhilarated and embellished with new skills that can be perfected in the future.

Jeremy Whiting-Huntsley is a fully trained Quarterstaff practitioner with over a decade’s experience in competitions and teaching. His teaching has taken him across the breadth of Britain, however the Forest of Dean is where his regular activities take place. If you’d like to experience one of Jeremy’s Quarterstaff workshops then you can make an enquiry over on the Contact page.

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